Guitar players tend to group themselves according to preferences, thus forming what some may refer to as tribes. It is not surprising for us to be seen as being tribal, something that we have become accustomed to over the years. Many factors come into play in the formation of these tribes.
You will find that people group themselves into camps such as single coil pickups, set necks, 6L6, humbuckers, EL34, and bolt-on. In these groupings, the design choices are what draw people to one camp or the other, and as such, it is a decision based on what guitar gets you there.
However, some unifying factors also seem to glue as together as you will notice when guitar players get into discussions on what each camp brings to the table. With each group, there is something that stands out.
The single coil pickups, for example, have a lot to offer. Over time, people realized that there were other ways to design lipstick pickups over a coil of wire other than the native six-pole design. This discovery led people to branch out from the original Stratocasters and into models such as Jaguar pickups, Franz pickups and different designs on the market today.
Though the idea behind the pickups is the same, there are some differences between the designs which affect the music produced. When stating the differences in the engineering process and the timbre of such pickups, most people will stumble and fail to articulate the designs in detail. Only real experts in the field can tell you what the different models have to offer in detail.
If you are a guitar enthusiast, who can’t seem quite to grasp the differences, count yourself lucky as you are about to get immersed in the world of lipstick pickups. Read on and soon; people will turn to you for advice on which lipstick pickups are best for them.
The lipstick pickup
Let us take a swift stroll down memory lane to the point where it all begun. Many people think of Nathan Daniel when they hear of a lipstick pickup, and it is not for naught. After all, he did invent this impressive guitar which still lives on almost a century later.
Nathan came up with Danelectro in the year 1947 where he focused on innovating musical instrument amplifiers and supplying them to Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck who were his most significant customers.
For these companies, he came up with amps that were different from his Danelectro amps and the companies sold them under their names. Seven years after the formation of his company, he ventured into the making of guitars for both Danelectro and Silvertone.
The thing that stood out about his guitars was how easy they were to play, even for the inexperienced guitarists.
He focused on baritone guitars and electric sitars through his career as he found ways to maximize their output and keep the costs low. In so doing, he used features such as metal nuts, tape binding, masonite tops, stacked knobs and the pickup.
The use of lipstick tubes
In innovation, you have to think outside the box, and that is what Nathan did. He was always in search for a great deal, and when he came upon the idea of incorporating lipstick tubes in his guitars, he did not look back. He procured a large number of lipstick tubes and got to work, thus making the most straightforward lipstick pickup to this day.
Inside the guitar, he placed a bar magnet wrapped in copper wire, devoid of a bobbin. On rare occasions, the ensemble would be sealed with lacquer or wax. To help you get the idea behind this, picture this. A traditional single coil made in Strat-style comes with magnets held with bobbins before being wrapped with copper wire.
The bar magnets in place are used to change the magnetic fields in the pickups to vibrations which then produce sound. When it comes to the original lipstick pickups, they are longer than the traditional coils because they only came in one size. With time, lipstick pickup manufacturers have found ways to produce them in various sizes.
Some people look at the neck pickup of a Telecaster and think of it as a lipstick pickup, but this is not the case. The Telecaster is a traditional single coil guitar which comes with a bobbin and a metal casing, and thus you can spot the difference in the making. Lipstick pickups come with a more significant bar magnet when compared to Telecasters, and therefore, they have more note smear which results in a clean sound that is less precise than that of the Telecaster.
You can hear the variations much more clearly when there is distortion because it will highlight the sound more clearly. People often opt to play with the lipstick pickups when they want tones that lie in the ranges of a slightly dirtied clean music all the way to ragged over-driven sounds. When compared to the other single coil pickups on the market, lipstick pickups have a much looser bass, and this feature makes them ideal for use in a rhythm guitar.
The loose bass gives more life to the complete chord sound as opposed to only the individual notes which other single coil pickups tend to do. The tone produced by lipstick pickups can be described as a sound with scooped-mids accompanied with top ends that are very trebly.
When you install a lipstick pickup in an instrument, the materials in that instrument will affect the sound produced by the lipstick pickup which is something that you should keep in mind during the installation. You will find that most lipstick pickups are in Danelectro instruments which are often built of plywood and hollow in nature.
If you do decide to install the pickup in a guitar with a solid body, the lipstick pickup will lose its tonal raggedness because its response will be faster.
Ways to adjust lipstick pickups
Physically adjusting lipstick pickups is a breeze, thanks to the lack of adjustable pole pieces on the bar magnet. However, though this is often an advantage, it can also go wrong. You see, with most Danelectro instruments, the adjustment screws are at the back of the device. This positioning makes it very hard to adjust the playing position as well as to observe the rise and fall of the lipstick pickup as you go about changing it.
With the lipstick pickups, the best way to go about adjusting them is to practice a great deal of patience as you play about with the screws. It is quite easy to move the pickup by a small distance and miss your sweet spot. The two things you need to consider during adjustments are height and the output.
When I talk of output, it is regarding how much power the pickup has. You can also think of it as the strength of the bar magnet. As a rule, the more output the lipstick pickup has, the easier it becomes for it to drive the amp to distortion.
Output has a direct relationship with the DC resistance such that the higher the strength, the higher the output. Take for example a guitar such as a Seymour Humbucker with a DC resistance of 16k which is quite high. Take another example of the Stratocaster with a DC resistance of 6k which falls in the ranges of medium-low. In the case of lipstick pickups, you will find that their output lies in the fields of 3-4k, which is quite low. As such, they cannot drive an amp without getting some form of help from an overdrive pedal or a boost.
However, this low output is not a setback because as I mentioned earlier, the tone of lipstick pickups suffers from note smear. As such, the extra headspace can help deal with that.
Many people undergo some strain on their first attempt to adjust the height of a pickup, but after a while, they get the hang of things. I have to admit that it can be a challenge in the beginning. If you set the height too high, you will lose most of the character associated with the pickups, and there will be extra noise accompanying the signal.
If you set the pickup height too low, you suffer from challenges such as dull sounds which are distant and seemingly lost. As is the case with the output, a lot of patience will help you out as you play about with the height until you find the right one for your choice of music.
Keep in mind that your adjustments should be in line with your choice of guitar, pedals, amp, your music and most importantly, your preference. Having measurements as a guide is a great place to start, but you are free to make as many tweaks as possible to get to the right tone for you.
Lipstick pickups are not all that different from the other single coil pickups on the market and with the right adjustments in place, you will blast out tunes, and hit notes you never thought were possible.